Sunday, June 17, 2012


You are a man who grew up Catholic, served Mass as a boy, and are now pushing sixty, if not older. You are walking down the street, and you recognize a fellow with whom you served those many years ago. He greets you with ...

“Introibo ad altare Dei.” (“I will go unto the altar of God.”)

... to which you immediately respond:

“Ad Deum, qui laetificat juventutem meam.” (“To God, who giveth joy unto my youth.”)

And with that, a special bond is affirmed, as if with a mutual password or secret handshake. It is the silent fraternity of Catholic boyhood now virtually gone, in the face of liturgical renewal, and (as much as some hate to admit it, and whatever the motivation) the inclusion of women and girls in the ranks. At the parish of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, the noble tradition of an all-male server corps (upheld in the 1994 decree from the Holy See permitting female acolytes) is maintained. They are "knighted" into their own confraternity, under the patronage of Saint Tarcisius. Whether they might be classified as nerds, jocks, geeks, bookworms, or anywhere in between, when they enter the sacristy, they are brothers, and they act accordingly. Their sense of teamwork is most apparent during the Paschal Triduum, but it also manifests itself throughout the year.

It is this sense of fraternity that binds them, as it does to all men of all ages, who attend to the priest in offering sacrifice. It extends beyond generations, and beyond the city limits.

When I return to Cincinnati, I present myself to serve at any one of two parishes in the city. I am (usually) never turned away. At the old Italian parish of Sacred Heart in Fort Washington, I assist with the 11:30 Mass, which is my usual temporary haunt on Sunday morning. But occasionally I join the Oratorians and others at the renowned German parish of Old Saint Mary's in Cincinnati's "Over The Rhine" district. This time round, I was invited to serve this past Friday, for a Solemn Mass of the Sacred Heart. I wish I had taken a photo of the exquisite and lavishly appointed gold vestments. But instead, I got this photo seen below, of a burse I found in the sacristy. The word rhymes with "purse," which is what it is, for keeping the white cloth known as the corporal, which in turn is placed at the center of the altar, and upon which the Sacred Host is laid, as would a body prepared on its burial shroud.

The schola and choir includes students from the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music, one of the most prestigious schools of its kind in the Midwest. Among the works they performed was one of my favorites, Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus."

This morning found me serving for the High Mass at Sacred Heart, currently run by the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo (aka Scalabrinian Missionaries). Once a German parish, it became Italian by mid-century, when a pre-existing parish of the same name further downtown was razed to make room for Procter and Gamble's expansion. For the afternoon, I participated in Solemn Vespers, again at Old Saint Mary's. I had never served traditional vespers before, and so this was my first time. At least now I know how it's done right.

"St Marienkirche" is also the seat of a "community-in-formation" of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri. It consists of laymen as regular brothers, served by priests of the community who serve as chaplains. There was common prayer after vespers, followed by recreation and a light refreshment. Eventually, the Cincinnati Oratorians will have their own "pious house" for residency in the heart of the old neighborhood, and will gain full canonical status.

Between the above, and a text message greeting from Sal, as well as a phone message from Paul, such was how yours truly spent Father's Day. The gift that was given to me, was a reminder of fraternity. May it last through the years.

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